Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Did Barth understand Przywara?

After another of the increasingly predictable discussions between myself and my Princeton/Wheaton/theo-blogosphere co-belligerent on this question, I thought another bit from Johnson was warranted. As always, bold is mine.

Keith L. Johnson, Karl Barth and the Analogia entis, T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology (London; T&T Clark, 2010).
[D]id Barth truly understand Przywara’s theology in general and the analogia entis in particular?

To address this question, it will be helpful to summarize what we know of Barth and Przywara’s encounters…We know that Barth had positive feelings for Przywara personally, both from their letters to one another and from Barth’s remarks…to Thurneysen. It is clear as well that Barth did not have a negative preconception of the analogia entis before he read Przywara’s book and met him personally, because he had used the principle in his own dogmatic theology. We know that Barth read at least the first two parts of Przywara’s Religionsphilosophie carefully and discussed it at length during two seminar sessions; we know that he listened to a lengthy lecture from Przywara about Roman Catholic ecclesiology; we know that he sat with Przywara for a two-hour discussion of Przywara’s theology in his seminar; and we know that Barth and Przywara spent two evenings together in Barth’s home for one-on-one discussions of theology. If Barth had misconceptions about the analogia entis, therefore, Przywara had ample time to disabuse Barth of them. We also know that Barth had long since proven himself to be a perceptive and insightful reader of theological texts. His lectures on Zwingli, Calvin, and Schleiermacher at Göttingen stand as examples of his perceptive insight, and the same can be said for his book on Anselm and the lectures that would become Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, which were originally delivered in 1929-30 in Münster and continued in 1932-3 in Bonn. Throughout this period, Barth showed an attention to detail, an ability to recognize the contours of a theologian’s argument and the underlying motivation for it, and a willingness to let a theologian’s work speak for itself. He showed himself, in other words, not to be merely a polemicist who saw in text what he wanted to see.

On the basis of all of this evidence, therefore, it is clear that Barth was in position to obtain an accurate idea of what Przywara meant by the term analogia entis, what the implications of the principle were, and how it fit into Przywara’s larger theological project. It is also clear that Barth did not approach Przywara or the analogia entis in a polemical, or for that matter, a ‘demented’ way. He approached Przywara as someone representing another tradition, to be sure, and it is clear that Barth recognized points of disagreement between their views. He did not see Przywara as an enemy, however, but as a kindred spirit, albeit one with whom he could not always agree.

In short...we have every reason to conclude that Barth's eventual rejection of the analogia entis was based not upon a lack of understanding or upon an unfair approach to Przywara's theology or to analogia entis itself.
as Johnson notes, all these are merely preliminary conclusions that require bearing out on the basis of what Barth actually says about Przywara. Johnson spends a great deal of time doing just that over the course of his volume, which is just one more reason why it ought to be on your shelf.

8 comments:

dguretzki said...

Thanks, Travis. Very helpful. I'll have to read Johnson's book now!

JKnott said...

like

Bros. Jimenez said...

Looks like a good study; will have to check this one out.

millinerd said...

I have no reason to think Johnson is anything other than perfectly correct. Again, the historical Barth is one thing, how we think about theology after Barth is another. These two distinct subject areas only conflate for those interested in being consistent Barthians.

W. Travis McMaken said...

Its hard to think theologically after Barth (which I take to mean in some way that recognizes he existed) without first properly understanding what he said. There are many misconceptions about what he said on these matters, which makes the historical point especially important.

millinerd said...

Absolutely. The fruit of this debate is that you have shown me that my attempts to interpret Barth more broadly fail. I have no **historical** grounds for this, which of course, just takes me further away from Barth. It may be a sealed system. In Luther's debate with Eck, Luther lost when he conceded that Popes could err. Likewise, by conceding Barth erred, I may have lost this debate on **Barthian** grounds. But no matter, as a glorious truce has been realized on this issue at the milinerd Christmas podcast (8 minute mark for those who don't love poetry).

W. Travis McMaken said...

DET will provide some indirect commentary on said podcast, likely on Epiphany Sunday. But, that is neither here nor there.

I keep hammering the historical issue only because you keep suggesting that the older picture of Barth on this topic is correct. Well, that and I'm trying to get Keith some press. Still, how are you prepared to make the claim that Barth erred without a grasp of precisely what he thought about all this? It might turn out that you have been tilting at windmills to a significant extent. Or, it may not. But you must read Keith to find out! ;-)

W. Travis McMaken said...

P.S. As this friendly tete-a-tete between us has progressed, I become increasingly self-conscious about my lack of a snazzy profile picture! ;-)